COVID-19 update with Dr Mark Veitch, Director of Public Health
As I write this, Tasmanians are experiencing our first winter with COVID-19 circulating in our population. Pandemic viruses infect populations in waves. We have experienced the disruptions of large waves of COVID-19 infections in January and then March-April this year. At least a third of us have been infected and more than 100 people have died. With a high incidence of the Omicron BA.5 subvariant now in our small, connected population, many of us are tired of COVID-19.
Our challenge is to walk a line between hoping COVID-19 will go away and returning to the measures we used when we were an unvaccinated population. Neither of these extreme approaches is proportionate. We must use a range of measures to manage COVID-19.
For many months we have all been preparing for living with COVID-19. This means managing and adapting to waves of COVID-19 while benefiting from high levels of vaccination in our population. Most of what we need to do is not new.
The best protection against complications of COVID-19 is to be up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations. The older you are, particularly if you have medical conditions, the more likely you are to get complications of COVID-19, and the more important it is that you get your boosters.
Get tested for COVID-19 as soon as you have any cold or flu symptoms. You can test yourself using a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) or book in for a free PCR test. Free RATs are available to people who have symptoms or are close contacts – fill in the request form.
If you still have symptoms after several negative RATs, get a PCR test.
Get advice on treatment
Oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 are now available. These reduce the risk of complications. If you are aged 70 years or older you are eligible. Some younger people with specific health conditions are also eligible.
You get the most benefit from treatment by starting it as soon as possible after symptom onset. If you are eligible, and test positive, arrange treatment through your GP or through COVID@homeplus.
If you are visiting your doctor, discuss a plan for getting treatment if you catch COVID-19 in the future.
Follow the Public Health requirements of cases and contacts
If you have COVID-19 you must isolate for at least seven days. If your RAT is positive, you must register this result with Public Health online or by calling 1800 671 738. If you test positive on a PCR test, the laboratory will notify Public Health.
If you are a close contact of a case of COVID-19, you must test for COVID-19 straightaway, test daily if you leave your home, wear a face mask indoors outside your home, inform your workplace and stay alert for symptoms. You are a close contact for seven days.
These are legal requirements under section 53 of the Public Health Act 1997.
Do the right things
The advice about how to reduce the COVID-19 risk to ourselves and others remains the same. These actions are more important when there is a lot of COVID-19 around.
- Wear a face mask in indoor public spaces and other places where you cannot physically distance.
- Try to keep some physical distance from others where you can.
- If you have new cold or flu symptoms, don’t go to work, school or educational settings, or crowded places. Get tested. Stay at home until you are better.
- Cough into a tissue, dispose of the tissue and then wash or sanitise your hands.
Follow workplace requirements
Operators of workplaces are responsible for ensuring that workers, clients, and visitors to their sites are safe from harms. They do this by identifying and assessing risks and putting in place practicable measures to manage the risks. COVID-19 is one of these risks.
When you enter a workplace, you may be required to comply with requirements such as demonstrating vaccination status, wearing a mask, sanitising your hands, and following measures that help maintain physical distancing.
Where are we heading?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been very long, and things have constantly changed.
The severity of acute illness per infection has fallen, but waves of recent strains of the virus have spread more easily and resulted in large numbers of
cases. Current vaccines provide valuable protection against complications of COVID-19 but very limited reduction of spread. Antiviral treatments are now available.
Ongoing symptoms after substantial recovery from acute COVID-19 are an important consideration; care pathways to assess and manage the various consequences of COVID-19 are being established.
The evidence to guide public health and clinical actions also evolves. No disease has ever generated more research in such a short time.
I expect that in several months the Omicron BA.5 wave will be behind us. A new variant or subvariant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will probably be among us. We will know what to do.
The way we live now to slow the spread of common respiratory infections will help protect those Tasmanians who are most vulnerable to severe illness from such infections.
Pandemics leave legacies. My hope is that lessons learnt from COVID-19 have a lasting, valuable impact on our lives and that useful precautions and behaviours become ordinary parts of the way we live our lives.